Saturday, March 24, 2007

The Flower Fairies of Cicely Mary Barker

History and Old Stuff...

Sometimes I see an old-time illustration and it stirs a vague memory. I had one of those deja vu moments a few days ago when I was searching for an image of green ash blossoms to compare with the photo I had just taken.

Along with images of tree leaves, blossoms, twigs and buds, two images of beautiful little fairies appeared in the search results -- the Mountain Ash fairy and the Elm fairy. I can't tell you where or when I'd seen such fairies before, but I thought, "Oh, I remember them!" and it warmed my heart to see them again.

Intrigued, I followed the link and found a number of similar fairy illustrations listed on an eBay page. I was in a hurry but I wanted to know more, so I bookmarked the page. Today, I went back to enjoy the images and to find out more about the artist.

They are the work of Cicely Mary Barker, an English illustrator who lived from 1895 to 1973. She painted dozens of Flower Fairies. Some were part of a Flower Fairy alphabet. Others were Flower Fairies of the garden, of the forest, and of spring, summer, and fall.

I would love to put a Flower Fairy image here for you to enjoy but the art is still under copyright. You can see a good group of the Flower Fairies at Julie's Antique Prints, at Flower Fairies Pictures or at Prints With a Past.

The paintings have an air of innocent imagination and sweetness about them. Each fairy has a child's face and its wings and costume mirror and complement the flower that the fairy tends. The flowers are painted with careful attention to botanical detail.

When I read about Cicely Mary Barker, I learned that she had epilepsy as a child, so her parents did not send her to school. She studied at home with governesses. When she was 15, her father showed some samples of her paintings to a publisher, and he bought them and produced a series of note cards from them. That was the beginning of her professional art career.

After her father died, Barker helped support the family by selling illustrations and poetry to magazines. Fairies were a fad at the time, partly because Queen Mary was fond of sending fairy postcards, and so Barker began painting fairies and eventually published eight volumes of Flower Fairies. Perhaps I saw one of these books somewhere, sometime.

The models for the fairies were children wearing costumes that Barker designed and sewed. Each costume matched the color and the mood of the flower it complemented. As Barker painted, she had the fairy model hold a specimen of the flower so she could be sure of the flower's details. In each of the finished paintings, the fairy is the same size as the flower.

Barker's sister ran a kindergarten in the family home, so children were always nearby to serve as models, and Barker heard their little voices and their footsteps as she painted.

Barker also produced a lot of Christian art over the years. She donated art and designs to Christian mission and charity groups and created art for churches as well. However, she is most remembered for her Flower Fairies.

My daughter says when she has children, she's going to use bright primary colors in their bedrooms, but in their room at Grandma's house they may have Flower Fairies on the walls.


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CONTENTMENT: Keep your heart free from hate, your mind from worry, live simply, expect little, give much, sing often, pray always, forget self, think of others and their feelings, fill your heart with love, scatter sunshine. These are the tried links in the golden chain of contentment.
(Author unknown)

IT IS STILL BEST to be honest and truthful; to make the most of what we have; to be happy with simple pleasure; and to be cheerful and have courage when things go wrong.
(Laura Ingalls Wilder, 1867-1957)

Thanks for reading.